Hey, more schlock! This time I watched a movie called Reeker, another mediocre genre film that no one cares about. The movie is about five college students who become stranded in a seemingly deserted town where they experience a pungent odor, visions of dead people, disembowelments and Michael Ironside. The movie was directed by Dave Payne who went on to direct such memorable classics as No Man’s Land: The Rise of Reeker (the prequel to Reeker that I will never watch) and Fred.
If you couldn’t tell from my sardonic tone then let me say that I wasn’t too fond of this film. It’s basically as middle of the road as you can get with horror flicks. Its opening scene is of a group of people (here, a mother, father and son) that aren’t the main characters. The viewer already knows that they’re either going to die or something completely messed-up is about to happen to them, because all horror films need an opening sequence to establish the mood as well as hook the audience in as soon as possible before they start spending a lot of time establishing the main group of characters. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, but in Reeker the formula is rather apparent; this could have been circumvented if the opening were stronger, but it’s rather standard stuff. The characters do a couple of stupid things in order to create suspense, there’s some CGI blood and gore and it ends on a disturbing image–cue the credits. While the opening does an okay job of making the audience interested it’s rather cheesy, going from slightly humorous (unintentionally) to somewhat disturbing back to a weak attempt at scaring the audience.
The main characters are standard stuff; they’re not off-the-rack Breakfast Club stereotypes, but they’re close. There’s the stoner, nicknamed Trip (Scott Whyte,) his more level-headed friend Nelson (Derek Richardson,) Nelson’s girlfriend Cookie (Arielle Kebbel,) a blind guy with a dry sense of humor Jack (Devon Gummersall) and the accented Gretchen (Tina Illman.) The dialogue between the characters is generally believable, with the exception of the cliches spouted by Jack, but they’re also rather flat and uninteresting. Maybe it’s okay considering that this is a horror movie and all that is needed is just enough for the audience to care for the characters somewhat, but other than Trip (who almost ends up being the hero towards the end) I wasn’t involved in the fates of the other characters. It’s clear that Payne wanted us to empathize with the characters, it’s just that the dialogue and interactions are just too average and the acting ranges from being good to bad, never enough the elevate the material to where it needs to be. Oh, and Michael Ironside is in it as a guy searching for his missing wife, but he doesn’t do much before he croaks (Spoiler!)
Plot-wise, the movie isn’t distinct. There are a few jump-scares, but fortunately they are scarce. Perhaps the most unique thing plot-wise is the subplot with Trip’s dealer, Radford (Eric Mabius) chasing after him after Trip steals some drugs. Also, from the movie’s blurb, it describes the film as being about a group of students being terrorized by a foul odor. I was going into the movie expecting the students threatened by a large gaseous entity, and in the film I think they mention that they’re going to Area 52, so I was expecting (hoping) that they would be contending with aliens. Payne might have been trying to subvert expectations by going a different route, but the end result is still the same, mainly a group of kids getting killed at night. All the cliches are here, a couple are having sex, there’s no cellphone reception, they can’t go anywhere because their gas line had been cut, they do things no sane person would do if they shared the same situation, etc. Are there any interesting deaths? Not really, but there’s one somewhat original kill where one of the characters is killed in an outhouse, but that scene goes on too long anyway and loses some of its impact. And like other films of this ilk, there is a twist ending that re-contextualizes everything. The ending tries to “blow your mind” and it does explain many of the things that happen, but it’s still a rather disappointing explanation; mainly because it’s a cop-out that’s been done numerous times before and when you see it you’ll go “Oh really, they did that! Give me a break!” Not exactly the intended reaction. Funny enough, it shares pretty much the same ending as Jack the Reaper, another movie I reviewed. I can’t tell which picture employed the twist better nor do I really want to give it much thought.
You might be wondering why I even bother watching such schlock. I mean, these movies are supposed to suck, right? You shouldn’t expect Shakespeare. Don’t get me wrong, I was mildly entertained with the film, but I mainly watch these movies in the hopes that I come across a neglected gem, or in the very least, be pleasantly surprised. It’s disappointing that most of these movies (or most movies in general) are pretty much culled from the same mush. You can argue that it’s just a horror movie and that it doesn’t need to defy formula. This is true for Reeker could have worked, even with much of the same elements, if some of the other technical aspects were beefed up, like the acting and directing and cinematography. But I would also say that a better guarantee for success lies in a better script. I’m reminded about how most death metal bands sound pretty much the same, and the result is that a potentially distressing experience ends-up amounting to hollow noise for most death-metal bands follow the same basic template, thus lessening that particular template’s effectiveness. There are some attempts at uniqueness in Reeker, like the whole visible odor thing that emits from the monster (which by-the-way actually looks kind of cool). The movie also tries to subvert some cliches to mess with the viewer’s expectations as well as attempts at humor, but the subversions are mostly old-hat and the humor is stale.
Overall, I would give Reeker a mild recommendation if you like horror and its familiar tropes and want a simple diversion from the everyday. Maybe next time I’ll uncover that schlock masterpiece, buried underneath the landfill.